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laptop computer on a desk in front of a window

This is only a very small piece of the design process.

You know that saying, “You get what you pay for”? Concerns about cost are the most common stumbling blocks for small businesses and individuals seeking quality design services. At first glance, web design or graphic design costs can seem prohibitive. However, that is usually because the client simply isn’t in the right frame of mind.

You (the client) cannot think of design services as simply an exchange of money for a product, not if you want good design. It’s not like you can swing by Target to pick up a new website. And, DIY sites are not all they’re cracked up to be. Design is not simply a product or a service; it is an investment in your business.

When hiring a designer, you aren’t paying just for the final product. You are paying for the designer’s experience and knowledge. Not just knowledge of how to design, but why. The whys of design are just as important – if not more important – as the hows. Why is color A better than color B? Why can’t the design use more of all these cool fonts available? Why aren’t the images I snapped using my smartphone good enough?

The designer has to answer these questions and more, and answer them in such a way that the client understands the reasoning behind design. There is an element of psychology behind design choices, so when you pay for a designer, you’re also paying for a shrink.

Suddenly, the costs seem a lot more reasonable, don’t they?

I speak lightly, but it is the truth. When designing for a client, I don’t make choices based on what’s “pretty.” I can’t; there is too much to consider to limit myself in that way. Considerations such as:

  • Demographics: Design choices change depending on who is using the final product. A website designed for teenagers is going to be much different than one designed for seniors.
  • Technological literacy: How computer savvy is your target audience?
  • User-friendliness: No matter how visually attractive a design is, it is a failure if the end user can’t navigate the website, or can’t garner the main message being communicated.
  • Branding: Most clients already have a brand identity cultivated. Designers have to build within those established guidelines.
  • CRAP: Specifically, Contrast, Repetition, Alignment, Proximity – principles of good design. Along with things like balance and focus.
  • SEO: Search engine optimization. When designing a website, this is critical for getting it in front of your customers.
  • Client feedback: Ultimately, the final design choices are the client’s. And I’ve rarely been given carte blanche.

The above are only a handful of thoughts that run through my mind when working on a design project. Most of the time, I have to hold all these considerations and more in my mind at one time.

Of course, that’s only the design knowledge piece of the equation. You’re also paying for a designer’s technical knowledge. The ability to utilize programs such as Photoshop, Illustrator, or InDesign to create designs. The knowledge of HTML code and CSS markup to build a functional and attractive website. The ins and outs of WordPress so that you, the client, can focus on the content of your website, not how to make it work.

And, don’t forget troubleshooting. If you run into technical trouble, the person who built your website is likely going to be the one to help you out of it.

Designers don’t arrive at the prices they charge without a lot of consideration. For someone like me, whose main client base is small businesses and individuals, I know that budget is a priority. However, I have to balance that fact with the fact that I, too, am doing this to make a living. Designers have bills to pay, too. We have a future to consider, a family to take care of, rainy days to guard against.

The next time you think about offering a designer “lots of promotion” in return for free work, ask yourself this: If a client wanted your product or service, and offered to pay you in word-of-mouth promotion, would you accept?

I doubt it.